Everybody loves the magic of the holiday season — but who, beside a die-hard winter sports enthusiast, looks forward to January and February? For most of us, midwinter is a time to hunker down and hibernate. Therapists, however, tell us that the best way to endure winter is to embrace it. So load up your friends and family and head to a winter festival or carnival, especially one in a picturesque location that actually looks good in white. Here are eight family-friendly festivals, all within 300 miles of New York City, all surefire cures for the wintertime blues.
General admission to the winter carnivals is free, as are outdoor spectator events and most organized kids-only activities. Fees are charged for food, rides and marquee indoor shows and entertainment. As of press time, most carnivals had yet to finalize their schedule of events. Outdoor events are invariably subject to cancellation as a result of weather. Check the latest website listings before you go.
Lambertville – New Hope Winter Festival
WHERE Lambertville, New Jersey, and New Hope, Pennsylvania
WHEN Jan. 19-27
Back in 1996, charities in these historic towns on opposite sides of the Delaware River concluded that they needed to do something to get people out and about in late January. Two decades later, that is what Winter Festival still does via mostly indoor events including puppet shows and fairy-tale readings for young children (free), open houses at the many shops and galleries, and venue-sponsored food and live entertainment events, such as the Fire and Ice Ball, Inn to Inn Dinner tour, and a Jersey Shore (indoor) beach party.
WHERE Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
WHEN Jan. 31 – Feb. 3
Since it couldn’t count on snow, this 19th-century market town just west of Gettysburg opted for ice as the centerpiece of its annual downtown event. Each year, some 30 tons of it are turned into more than 80 creative and artistic renditions (carving takes place on Thursday and Friday), including a functional ice throne and double-wide ice slide. Participatory events include a 5K race, a chili cook-off, Icing on the Cake cupcake competition and a Snowfall Ball.
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival
WHERE Saranac Lake, New York
WHEN Feb. 1-10
The Northeast’s premier winter carnival began back in 1897 but didn’t become an annual event until 1948. Seventy years later, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, epitomized by its enormous walk-through Ice Palace, draws locals and visitors to a smorgasbord of winter sports (skating, skiing, tubing, curling, hockey and snowshoeing) and entertainment (parades, theater, music, and fireworks) in this central Adirondack village, 10 miles west of Lake Placid. Native son Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury") designs the annual carnival “button”. This year’s theme: Prehistoric Park.
Lake George Winter Carnival
WHERE Lake George, New York
WHEN Feb. 2-3, 9-10, 16-17 and 23-24
The star of the Lake George Winter Carnival now in its 58th year, is Lake George itself — a karge, accessible, body of water that almost always freezes over enough to support, skaters, dog sleds, horse-drawn sleighs, snowmobiles, ATVs and even cars. Shoreline events, most of which occur at lakeside Shepard Park, include cook-offs, bonfires (with hot chocolate and s’mores), a polar plunge and fireworks on Saturday evenings. While most events are repeated on each of the four February weekends, there are variations, such as an opening weekend parade and the kinds of motorized vehicles racing on the lake.
Newport Winter Festival
WHERE Newport, RI
INFO Feb. 15-24
“New England’s largest winter extravaganza” sails into Newport each February with a staggering lineup of 150 events appealing to young children and adults in search of food, drink and live entertainment. Among the more popular are a Princess Party, a children’s fair, ice carving, sand sculpting and beach polo. Most commercial enterprises downtown participate in some manner, and four of Newport’s most opulent Gilded Age mansions will be open daily.
WHERE Syracuse, New York
WHEN Feb. 14-24
Historically, Syracusans preferred just staying inside during the winter. But in 1985, they decided to confront it commercially. Since then, Winterfest has grown to 11 days and annually draws some 100,000 people downtown to partake of both outdoor and indoor activities, most notably ice carving and skating at Clinton Square and a plethora of food-focused walking tours, including a Wing Walk, a Sandwich Stroll, a Culinary Cruise and several cocktail mix-offs. There are also special museum exhibits and artistic performances. A free bus conveys participants between venues.
Cooperstown Winter Carnival
WHERE Cooperstown, New York
WHEN Feb. 8-10
For 50 years now, the local Lions Club has been sponsoring a three-day weekend of old-fashioned family-oriented fun in this charming and historic village at the southern tip of scenic Otsego Lake. Among the tried-and-true annual offerings: Soup R’ Chili luncheons, pancake breakfasts, craft shows, bonfires, candlelight ghost tours and Saturday night fireworks. Ongoing outdoor activities include ice skating, cross-country skiing and sleigh rides. Meanwhile, local merchants lure passersby with promotions and tastings. If you have baseball fans in tow, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. all weekend.
Raquette Lake Winter Carnival
WHERE Raquette Lake, New York
WHEN Feb. 16-17 (Presidents' Day Weekend)
Located even deeper in the Adirondacks than Saranac Lake, the hamlet of Raquette Lake gets plenty of snow and below-freezing temperatures. What it doesn’t get are many tourists, making its completely free, two-day carnival a true, small-town event. Nostalgic activities include kiddie games, snow volleyball, a ladies’ frying pan toss, chain and cross-cut sawing competitions, a pancake breakfast, a bonfire and fireworks. Nearby are opportunities to skate, sled, cross-country ski, snowshoe and snowmobile.